Five Acres and Independence: Living Your Dream
My Dream is Born
I still remember that day. I’m not sure exactly how old I was but I was still in elementary school. My mother decided not to send me to school because I had a nasty cough so she dropped me off at my grandmother’s house.
Bummer! My grandmother had her “soaps” on all day on her one TV so I was out of luck there. Because I loved to read I started searching her bookcase and just about gave up finding something good.
Then I found it! It was a dull looking book with small print but the title grabbed me, “Five Acres and Independence”. I can’t imagine what a kid found intriguing about it now but I remember settling down on the sofa and starting to read. The chapter titles swept me forward: “City vs. Country Life”, “Choosing Your Land”, “Poultry”, “Bees”, Grafting Fruit Trees”.
These were as totally foreign as living on Mars to a boy from the suburbs, but I couldn’t put it down.
I’ve since learned that the book was written in 1935, the height of the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce and people who had been lured to the city during the Roaring Twenties longed to return to “the land”.
The author of the book, M.G. Kains, promised financial independence in a day when people were still standing in soup kitchen lines and desperately looking for work every day. The book became one of the best sellers of its day and is still available. If you want a copy of that original book go to eBay or you can order a 1973 version on Amazon.
The Search Begins
Now over forty years later I have my five acres and we’re living our dream, although it took me many years and a lot of meandering paths to return to that dream I had as a kid.
Nestled in the beautiful foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Missouri, my wife, LeaAnn and I have five acres and most of the necessities for independent living and am adding the rest on a steady basis.
We had been living a self-sufficient lifestyle in Alaska for the last 15 years and while we loved it, it was challenging. We knew that it wasn’t the best choice for us as we got closer to retirement age. Those 50 degree below zero mornings were getting harder and harder to handle. Now we wanted to build up a real homestead that would be our permanent home.
The daily onslaught of alarming news on TV and radio about troubles in the country made us aware that we might not have the peaceful retirement someday that we had been dreaming about. Change was in the air. Disaster seemed around the corner. We longed for a place where we could grow much of our own food, store supplies we might need and learn to live without depending on electric and water companies for our needs.
As we returned to the Lower 48 we were considering where we’d like to live. My first choices were Wyoming and Montana because I wanted mountains, low population density, and lots of snow. LeaAnn kept mentioning Missouri where she had grown up but I have to admit I was skeptical. “Isn’t that where…..?” Translation: Did I really want to live around all her relatives?
My first trip to Missouri dispelled those notions. I loved the rolling hills, the wooded areas, the beautiful lakes and the friendly people I met. So I agreed we’d begin our search in southwest Missouri. I was still working in Alaska, so LeaAnn and the boys moved down to Republic, Missouri. I joined her after one last year in Alaska. For the first year we were there, we lived in a rental house while we searched for our little slice of heaven. Then we found a small home on 6 acres near Aurora, Missouri. It seemed to be what we were looking for. It even offered “owner financing” with a low down payment. So we made the plunge, and moved to the country.
Boy did we get an education in home buying. It turned out that the central air system had major problems- that cost almost $1000.00 to resolve. Then we found out that the house had been empty for almost 2 years before we bought it. We had a large family of possums living under the house. After many attempts to get them out, I finally got mad and declared total war on them. Did you know that you can buy fireworks year round in Missouri? We went to a large Fireworks store and bought a large assortment of firecrackers, spinners, and smoke bombs. Then we blocked off the crawl space under the house except for one opening nearest the woods behind the house. Then we (everyone) started at the farthest end with firecrackers, noisemakers, and colorful smoke bombs. It was a sight to see! There was smoke of every color coming out all around the house, firecrackers popping, and spinners whizzing away. All of our neighbors came running as they thought we were on fire. Fortunately none had called the fire department yet! They all stood staring in amazement and shaking their heads. But after only a few minutes of this we saw a line of possums, snakes, and a few other critters heading out for the woods. No more critter problems, although the house smelled like gunpowder for days afterward.
We lived there for about 2 years when the people selling us the place decided to get divorced. Of course both wanted the house and land. A few weeks later we got a letter from a lawyer telling us we had to pay off the land in full or move. We moved. We had learned a valuable lesson about “ Owner Financing”. Unless you have a contract that has been checked out by the legal department of a real estate and title company, DON’T DO IT!!! So we were back to looking again. A little poorer and a lot wiser. If you don’t have a lot of money to put down, then you should read my article titled “Buying Land Without Money”. It’s just below this one.
Our “Must” Haves
This time we looked for a home that we could buy outright, or had bank financing. 5 years ago after months of searching my wife and I found our five acres. In my head, I had a list of absolute “musts” I wanted in a place. LeaAnn also had her own wants.
We agreed on the basics:
A rural location with neighbors at least 1/4 mile away in all directions
- Good water supply
- Lots of space for gardening.
- Goldilocks climate: Not too hot and not too cold. Preferably 4 seasons.
- Abundant days of sunshine for solar power
- One to ten acres, with five being ideal.
- Guaranteed access without having to get permission to cross other people’s land.
- Near a small town with friendly neighbors with good values
- Opportunity to earn money, although with the internet almost anywhere qualifies for that.
That was all we agreed on. I wanted a place on a hilltop or a ridgeline so I could set up my “antenna farm” with 360 degrees of open area to allow good radio reception and transmitting. Lots of trees for shade and antenna support were “musts” too.
LeaAnn wanted a house with a large family room, at least 3 bedrooms, and a nice kitchen.
We started looking at property ads on the internet, dreaming of each place we saw. LeaAnn looked at hundreds of properties online and thinned them down to a few dozen prospects. We especially looked for “repos” and estate sales, both of which had relatively low prices in exchange for cash sale. When we went to see some of the places, we got a real education in real estate jargon. Needs a little TLC (tender loving care) meant that the “house” on the property was leaning at a dangerous angle and hadn’t been lived in since World War II.
Fixer-upper meant a pile of termite eaten lumber where a house might have once been. It was easy to get discouraged.
Many of the places we liked had manufactured homes, which is common in rural areas.That didn’t really bother us as we had plenty of experience in remodeling and adding additions. When we built our “Alaska Bush Home”, we started with a 21 foot 1953 Aljo travel trailer. We just kept building onto it. When we left Alaska it had grown into a 3000 square foot 2 story home. The trailer had been completely absorbed by the additions. Of course, that only works in places without any building codes! We even had a house fire 3 days before 9/11/01. Our friends and neighbors came and helped us rebuild the damaged areas in less than one week.
After many hours of searching online, we had thinned down the list to about 20 possibles. Now we began going out to look at our prospects. It never failed. If I liked a place, LeaAnn hated it. But she accused me of being even ruder about what she liked. I began to see it wasn’t going to be easy. LeaAnn fell in love with a place on a river. It had everything she wanted in a house, and it was within our budget. I hated it! It was surrounded by hills in all directions, and there was no way my radios were going to work there. Fortunately (for me), when we went to see it, I noticed the high water marks about 1 foot below the ceiling from the flood that occurred a few weeks earlier. Scratch that one off the list. We kept looking. I noticed that almost all the places LeaAnn liked were older farmhouses that needed lots of repair. So we kept on looking. Things were looking bleak!
We actually didn’t find the place we now own. We had a very nice real estate agent, who had shown us several places, and told us abut this one as a possible. We almost didn’t even go look at it! We were so tired and frustrated by our inability to find a place we could agree on that we were ready to give up. But since the last place we had looked at was only a few miles away, we decided to swing by and look at it. As we drove farther and farther into the country we both started to perk up. Then when we turned onto a dirt road going uphill I started liking what I was seeing.
Eureka! We Found It!
After about a half mile on the dirt road, we found the entrance to the place. As we drove up the driveway we noticed the beautiful view, and the large hay fields separating the homes. The first thing that came into view was a nice shop building. I liked that a lot. Then as we saw the house we both admitted that it wasn’t “too bad”. When we peeked in the windows LeaAnn was horrified by the “pepto bismol “ red/ pink paint on the interior walls. But that was easily remedied.
We called our real estate agent and set up an appointment to view it. As we were walking through the house she told us the history of the property. It seemed that the previous owner had taken out a large loan to remodel the house. When he got the money he bought a new truck, and a motorcycle, and all the biker clothes etc. to go with it. Not one cent was ever spent on remodeling the home. When it was time to make the payments on the loan, he declared bankruptcy, so the house was repossessed by the lender (Fannie May).
They wanted to sell the house for the amount of the loan. It was way under market value, but we had to pay cash. So we took our savings and bought the property. Then we began fixing it up. I moved to the new house with one of my sons while LeaAnn stayed at the old place with our grandson until school let out. I painted the entire inside of the house and remodeled the kitchen. That got it at least livable. LeaAnn started to bring a load at a time and began moving us in. By the time school was out, everything was out of the old house, and she was camping out in it. After that we got settled in and we have slowly begun to upgrade the home as our budget permits. It’s not done yet, but we have a vision of how we want it, and a timeline to get it done in.
We still have a long way to go but you have to begin living your dream with a first step. You’ll find that’s part of the fun of owning your own home. I’ve got a small solar and wind system up, which helps with the utility bill. We have our own well and septic, and I discovered a year-round spring on our land as well. I have 8 different antennas up, and have great reception due to fact that we are on a ridgeline about 1600 feet above sea level.
LeaAnn has her big family room and three bedrooms and even a space for her quilting with plenty of room for her chickens!
We have a lot more planned for our home, and half the fun is getting there! It will probably never be done all the way, but that’s ok too. We have some raised bed gardens going as well as container gardening ( look for an article on this soon). We have chickens and rabbits which helps us be self sustaining. Remember- “Rome wasn’t built in a day”!
Are You Ready to Start Living Your Dream?
If you’re ready to start living your dream, my first suggestion is that you begin looking for your place, even if you’re light-years away from being ready to purchase it. Subscribe to my blog and I’ll help you achieve your dreams. Read my last post, http://realearthsolutions.com/2016/06/23/making-leap-city-life-country-living-green-acres-come/ to get more information on your search.
Good luck with hunting! Remember to enjoy the journey and join me in the future as I take you through the steps we followed, including housing, gardening, off-grid living, barnyard animals, and many other topics. And as always your comments are appreciated. Talk about your experiences. You can bet you’ll be helping someone with their dream!